Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-08-14 - 8:22 a.m.
I have been practising the bassline which James Jamerson plays on Uptight by Stevie Wonder – which is in the book of transcriptions/celebration of his life. I started on the flute and now have moved onto guitar and have started harmonising it with fourth-chords and So-What type chords so that it sounds a bit like something from Miles Davis electric phase. At first glance it is just a one chord groove, then I noticed that it is intended to move to the subdominant on the second chord. Then I noticed the second bar ie first time round it quite blatantly doesn’t but plays the dominant. I need to get hold of the original recording but I am pretty sure that the rest of the band will be playing the subdominant,
The result won’t be a clash – it’ll be interest – if it were in C the chord would be a kind of G11. If you listen carefully to a lot of classic Tamla you will find these more complex chords slipping in eg on Dancing in the Street – the first section of the song. The band usually comprises two or three guitarists plus piano and organ or maybe vibes. The head arrangements they got together placed the instruments all across the harmonies and all across the beat as well.
On bar four Jamerson does put the subdominant root in just for interest.
But both times round when he is on the tonic he uses the third a lot – a very strong note in a bassline – ie not the standard roots and fifths. The bassline says “uptight” all the way through.
The other thing I have noticed is how he changes the syncopation pattern. The two bar pattern is sixteen half notes – the first time round he divides it 5 - 5 - 6 . Each five is quite simple – two quavers and a dotted crotched - 11100. Of course it is so effective because the last dotted crotchet is the dominant root – so not only has he pushed the rhythm but he has pushed the harmony by the time you get the “and” of the fourth beat.
The lead-in to the strong beat of the third bar is so straight that it doesn’t even use a flat seventh but rather a straight leading note – this is straighter than you might expect at that part of the lick. He always keeps the listener on his toes. The second two bar pattern is more relaxed and the split is more the classic 6 to 10 .
You can tell from the interviews that are on the CD that comes with the transcriptions that the band thought in terms of a forensic approach to an the eight crotchets of the beat – trying to get Benny Benjamin to put the “slap beat” on the “and” of the two when he wanted to put it on the three etc.
The approach of using fourth chords comes from the way I have harmonised the Parker line A Leu Cha. I am really not sure what to make of that line. Quite simply is fun to play but I think this approach has abandoned the conventional bop harmonies. I rather suspect that this approach to the Parker line comes from looking at the Miles Davis live band playing Tutu in Avignon in 1987 alongside the Marcus Miller original recording when I was in Lycia. I think Miles may have pulled the jazz ensemble back towards Tamla style thinking but maybe keeping elements from the Trane 4tet such as the fourth chords.
Taking the Tamla line and adding the fourth chords and other McLaughlin/Poor boy type harmonies is very stimulating – it feels exciting to play.
Another Jamerson trope is to use old strings. He also used cloth wound strings on his Precision – the older the better. This has registered with me in terms of working on riffs – the sound might be “dull” in isolation but it will deliver.
All of this “classic line” thinking comes partly from the time I have spent on the Coltrane line which will open the Tanworth episode as a sort of elegy. I am now quite eager to deliver it – holding it in my mind is not too comfortable. I need to focus on the line that Andrew has written for Fruit Tree which I have played through a few times.
Trish phoned about the St Martins in the Fields Lullabies concert on 27 November. We have decided to use the text from the www. kwase-kwaza.org web page as the core for the leaflet. I just need to look over it this weekend to see if there are any small revisions to make.
As I drove back to Surrey I heard a programme about Emily Dickinson. I first heard of her from my uncle – the one who gave me a book of Langston Hughes poems when I was a teenager – and a book of criticism on the First World War poets. I asked him who he liked and he said Dickinson.
Apparently she said that when she came across a good poem it would take the top of her head off. She used that specific metaphor around one hundred and thirty years ago.